Christ the King
On the 25th Anniversary of Richard Carter’s ordination as priest
A sermon by Revd Katherine Hedderly
Readings for this service: Ezekiel 34.11-16, 20-24; Ephesians 1. 15-end; Matthew 25. 31-end
In the service for the ordination of priests we hear these words. “Priests are called to be shepherds and servants among the people to whom they are sent, they are to proclaim the word of the Lord and watch for the signs of God’s new creation.” and then we hear the many ways that they are to do this; in preaching and teaching, in prayer and worship, by being faithful to the sacraments of the church and offering God’s forgiveness, guiding those in their charge to walk with Christ and to know Christ, so that the whole church is built up in unity and faith, with particular care for the weakest, the poorest and those most in need. In all of this they are called to tell the story of God’s love and be an instrument of that love themselves. And the final words to the prospective priests;
“Remember the greatness of the trust that is now to be committed to your charge. Remember always with thanksgiving that the treasure now to be entrusted to you is Christ’s own flock, bought by the shedding of his blood on the cross. It is to him you will render account for your stewardship of his people.” Soon after they kneel for the gift of the Holy Spirit to equip them in this ministry, that they are called to do, not in their own strength, but through the power and grace of God. It is a momentous and beautiful charge that priests are called to live with throughout their lives, in season and out of season.
Today on this feast of Christ the King, we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the ordination to the priesthood of our beloved Richard Carter. Richard was ordained in 1992 in Solomon Islands, by the Archbishop of Melanesia when he was 33. Those words are words that Richard has lived and been faithful to…
What does it mean to live these words faithfully and allow Christ our King to rule our hearts? It means to live with the character of God that we see enacted in the prophet Ezekiel’s words, a shepherding, loving God, who searches and seeks, strengthens, protects and saves; to live with the compassion of God, who in Jesus meets and brings life and hope to the most vulnerable and weakest; it means to create the community of God, centred on Christ, where all are welcomed and all have unique and wonderful gifts to offer and share; and it means to always be seeking to live in God’s kairos moment – the moment of possibility and potential, the moment of quiet, the moment of resurrection, where God brings life, even when all is lost.
Character, Compassion, Community and Kairos. If Sam had been preaching this sermon that last one would of course also have begun with a C, and we could have had perfect alliteration.
I had an idea of what living with the character of God might mean here at St Martin’s, through Richard’s example in the early months of being here, when early one Saturday morning about 7am before morning prayer, I was surprised at my desk in the offices next door, not by the cleaner, but by Richard, barefoot and dressed just in a green towelling dressing gown. Also up early and at work to collect something from his desk. He politely said ‘Good morning’, as if nothing were out of the ordinary, and so did I, and we carried on. Some priest, some church, I thought!
I could see clearly that this wasn’t going to be a nine-to-five ministry.
Early mornings, late nights, going to great lengths to listen and support, to create opportunities for encounter with God, to speak of God’s justice, into the pressing issues of our time, of homelessness, the care of asylum seekers and refugees, to live faithfully and prayerfully, attuned to the needs of the world, and the inclusive love of God, creating relationship and keeping faith with friends around the world, and the many who come to and pass through this church.
God expects us to do what he does, to live with that same saving character. Go out of our way and use our energies in all the ways we can to restore God’s relationship with people. How can we dare to give our second best when God gives us everything. God invites us to be that bridge that others use to find their way back to God. It doesn’t necessarily mean we have to pour ourselves out day-by-day from early in the morning to late at night. But sometimes it does. God offers everything to bring his people back into relationship with him. ‘I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep’ he says. ‘I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed…’ When we have known that shepherding hand of God, who has searched for us and saved us, and given all that he has to find us, we will want to go to great lengths too, allowing God’s character to be shaped and formed in us by his love. Richard’s life as a priest is marked by that character of God.
We’re called to live with the compassion of God. In Matthew’s vision of the day of judgement, we hear Christ the King telling those who have tended compassionately to those most in need, that in doing this they have served and cared for him, and to those who have not done so, again that they have failed to care for him. In both cases they reply, ‘Lord, when was it?’ They don’t realise that it is in the ordinary actions of life that God sees of what we are made. They mark us.
What Jesus tells them is not just that they have done a good thing in caring for the vulnerable, but that these acts of kindness and generous love, for needy people, have a deeper dimension, they are where they will meet him and know God. Our meeting with God in Christ is bound up with our care for the least and the lost in our society and our world; the ones we exclude, and fear and lock up and despise and on whom we turn our backs – the refugee, prisoner, poor, hungry, homeless.
He is a servant king and his kingdom is all about serving others. The one who said; ‘Just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ This is Christ the King come down to meet us in the care for each person, in the sacrament of every moment. It means that it is in the small acts of grace and kindness, that we are all capable of, not the grand gestures, that we find God’s kingdom open wide for each of us and Christ there to meet us in another’s face and need. We see Christ in them and offer Christ to them. Who doesn’t know how to do these simple acts? But how to make that call to service the centre of our lives?
I often see that kind of ministry here where Richard has been as he has gone out to meet Christ in others. I will open the door of No6 next door to come to morning prayer and find the person who has slept outside on the doorstep and beside them a mug of tea, that Richard made them earlier, or hear him speaking words of prayer into someone’s despair and fear in the middle of a hectic day and a busy office, or see the care and attention he gives to someone going through a difficulty in their life, or hear he’s going off to the end of the tube line to sit in a sad windowless courtroom and speak passionately in support of someone’s asylum case, or I see the homeless person beaming because their sodden shoes have been replaced with new trainers, or hear how his prayers in hospital for someone in this community were gentle and life-giving, or in the tender hopefulness of the person who needs help, who asks when I open the church, ‘Is Fr Richard here today?’ when it’s his day off. Feeding, welcoming, clothing, caring, visiting, day-by-day-by-day.
If we are centred on this Christ-like compassion, offering dignity to each person and drawn into loving regard for one another, we will build the community of God. We have seen that loving regard overflow in many forms of community here, in the International Group, the Archers, in Club Wednesday, in the Bread for the World community, in many ways in the life of this congregation. These are communities that overflow with warmth, and friendship, and immense fun, and always food – we know Richard loves food. We thank God for the ways in which Richard has built community here with infectious, inclusive loving regard, and welcome for all.
That loving regard starts in prayer and silence and stillness. Richard often shares with us those moments of being with his Melanesian community of brothers in the Solomon’s, the moments of prayer before the early dawn, of waiting on God. And the praying community he has established here has that same quality of loving gaze. That silent love is where love for the other begins.
At the centre of it is the loving regard for Christ the King, who himself is the exiled, rejected, hungry, thirsty, lonely, naked, imprisoned, crucified one. The one whom God raised to life and set as our Lord, above all things. This is the source of the character and compassion and community of God. This is the moment and place that we live from. The kairos moment of God that is full of hope and possibility. We are the body of Christ the King, shaped around the wounded, vulnerable, risen one, wounded and vulnerable ourselves, sent to share his love with all whom we meet.
Richard shows us how to live out of this moment of hope and resurrection, bravely day-by-day, seeking and searching for and finding the lost. We thank you Richard for the many ways in which you share the hope that you have in Christ your King and God’s loving regard for you so generously with us.
May God bless you and continue to bless this community through you…
Anthem: Benedictus from ‘The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace’ Karl Jenkins
Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord
Hosanna in the highest.